Turnout not dampened by rain

Despite steady rain showers Tuesday, turnout at the polling station serving West Campus was the highest it had been in years, election officials said.

W.I. Patterson Recreation Center, the polling station for Precinct 5, was abuzz all day as students and Durham residents braved the weather to cast their ballots.

"We're double the average we usually have-we're getting up to 500 [at 5:30 p.m.], and usually we have about 125 all day," said Douglas Register, who has been an election judge at the site for four years. "It's been a steady stream throughout the day."

Although foul weather usually depresses voter turnout, in a heated race its effects are harder to predict, said Kristin Goss, assistant professor of political science and public policy.

"Whatever negative effects are more than offset by the intense interest in the district attorney race in Durham," she said.

Outside the voting station, members of the group Students for an Ethical Durham promoted Lewis Cheek, the district attorney contender who challenged incumbent Mike Nifong.

Nifong has come under national and local scrutiny for his handling of rape charges against three members of the 2005-2006 men's lacrosse team.

During election day, a number of students, including some members of this year's men's lacrosse team, were at several sites around the city during the day, wearing anti-Nifong T-shirts over their raincoats and asking passers-by to vote for Cheek.

"We really just wanted to make sure people got the message to vote for Cheek and not Monks," said Nick O'Hara, a senior on the team. "Basically we feel that a vote for Monks is a vote for Nifong."

Except for an hour during which he was at class, O'Hara said he had been at the station since 11 a.m. and would stay there until the polls closed.

Lines inside the recreation center varied throughout the day, but several Durham residents also noted that turnout was higher than usual at the station.

"In all the years I've voted here, there's never been anyone else here but me," said David Brewer, a primate technician at the Duke Lemur Center. "Usually I just walk in and have the place to myself."

Many students voting inside the recreation center said they hoped for a Nifong defeat.

"I'm not really sure about the chances [for Cheek] but I'm optimistic that we're taking a step in the right direction by getting a lot of students out to the polls," said senior Stephanie Reedy.

Although they were not on campus when the lacrosse scandal broke, freshmen also felt strongly about the election.

"I was inspired by getting Nifong out of office pretty much since I was visiting the school, and that idea had been reinforced in the last couple of months," said freshman Brent Beckert on a shuttle returning from voting at George Watts Elementary School.

Despite the relatively high student turnout, few said they had taken free shuttles provided by Duke Student Government and Students for an Ethical Durham.

"I was kind of thinking we were going to fill up," said shuttle driver Jaime Cruz. "We've never filled up and have only had one or two people per ride."

Cruz added that from between 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. he drove only 16 riders.

On the East Campus shuttle, students returning from voting at Watts said election officials were not checking identification and jested that they were considering going back to the polls with friends' IDs.

Rob Copeland and Steve Veres contributed to this story.

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